Navigating the challenges that come with climbing the corporate ladder can be difficult for anyone. But when you're a woman or non-white employee, these challenges often seem insurmountable when you're the "only" or "one of very few" in a space. For Hispanic/Latinx professionals specifically, data shows that while they make up 17% of the U.S. labor force, they occupy just 4.3% of executive positions, equating to the largest labor force and executive representation gap of any racial group.

"I'm lucky that in my career, I worked for employers that early on gave me the leadership training, the support, and the coaching to be able to grow and feel empowered to have a seat at the table," says Chief Member Lydia Flocchini, who serves as Chief Marketing Officer at SurePoint Technologies. "But, I know that when I speak to other Hispanic/Latinx leaders, sometimes that has been very challenging."

With conversations continuing to take place around the need for more diversity and inclusion in corporate America, Flocchini, along with other Hispanic/Latinx Chief Members, discuss how leaders can honor Hispanic Heritage Month by helping to close the gender and racial pay gap for their community and increasing diverse representation at the top.

On Hiring, Promoting, and Retaining Hispanic/Latinx Talent

As Executive Director of the Hispanic IT Executive Council (HITEC) Viviana Costa says one of the biggest mistakes company leaders make when trying to diversify their company is looking at the traditional Ivy League institutions and big name schools as their primary source for recruitment.

"There are communities of students that may not be within those realms of conventional recruiting, and companies need to start looking in other spaces [that are] rich in emerging talent," says Costa. For example, Flocchini, who is a member of the nonprofit Latinas in Tech, says her organization works regularly with tech companies to link them with Hispanic/Latinx professionals.

"I'm also a member of The Alumni Society, which is a great organization of over 3,700 Latino leaders and we partner with companies like Nike and Bank of America to share job opportunities with [diverse employees]," says Flocchini.

But in addition to creating a greater pipeline for Hispanic/Latinx workers, Costa says corporate leaders need to also do a better job of retaining and promoting Hispanic/Latinx professionals into leadership positions. "Retention is key to increasing and maintaining a diverse workforce," she emphasizes. "I believe it's in this space that leaders can put in the work to ensure diverse communities, including Hispanic/Latinx, feel like they belong [because] when you feel like you belong, you are less likely to leave."

Providing employees with mentorship, sponsorship, and leadership development opportunities are key ways for making individuals feel like they belong in a workplace, says Flocchini. And, they are also key ways for ensuring that diverse talent has a pathway into leadership positions. Right now, according to Lean In and McKinsey & Company's 2021 report, for every 100 men promoted into management roles, only 71 Latinas are promoted into similar positions, leading to a drop off in diverse female talent at the top.

"I've used my own leadership roles as a platform for change," says Flocchini, who has spent a lot of her career mentoring, sponsoring, and giving back to the next generation of diverse professionals. She says that when employees are provided with the right resources to succeed, "it helps to create an opportunity to increase representation at all levels."

On Closing the Pay Gap

When looking at the current gender pay gap, women, on average, are paid $0.82 for every dollar paid to men, with Hispanic/Latinx women facing the biggest pay disparity of all racial groups, making just $0.57, on average, for every dollar paid to white men.

"In my perspective, this issue is multi-layered," says Costa. "While this disparity is most prominent among Latinas, it's my belief that we need to slay the pay gap between men and women across the board, across all ethnicities. We are stronger together, and if we don't address the pay gap overall, it's more challenging to address this [gap] in particular for communities of color."

Costa suggests that in addition to ensuring that pay transparency and pay equity practices are embedded into a company's culture, leaders need to also be mindful of which employees are and aren't being promoted into senior-level roles. Right now, when looking at the Fortune 500 list, Costa points out that while there are a record number of 41 women running Fortune 500 firms none of them are Hispanic/Latinx.

"Representation matters and we need our leaders to create pathways for women and women of color to hold positions of influence," she says. "As more women find themselves in higher roles, which translates to higher paying wages and a voice for those coming up in the ranks, we will be able to see this gap shorten."

Advice for Being the "Only" or "One of Very Few" in a Space

With little representation of Hispanic/Latinx executives at the top, it's easy to feel the weight of being an underrepresented leader in corporate America. But Marisol Franco Creed, who serves as the Vice President of Interior Design at Royal Palm Companies, says she often advises other Hispanic/Latinx leaders to "embrace being an outlier."

"Be humble in your success and champion your failures," she says. "Be an example of perseverance and determination for the next generation."

Costa, who knows just how rare diverse representation is in tech, with Hispanic/Latinx talent making up just 8% of the STEM workforce, says that her best advice for leaders who are the "only" in a space is to "know that they have a voice and a place at the table, which gives [them] influence and power."

"At HITEC, we strongly believe in, 'If you see you, you can be it,'" she says. "We are going to need a lot of 'firsts' to get to a place where women and women of color are not alone at the table."